Middle School The Worst Years of My Life: Colourful, Lively, But to Eager to Please
Directed by Steve Carr – the man behind disasters like Daddy Day Care and Paul Blart: Mall Cop – the lively and colourful Middle School doesn’t quite hit the same lows as those films, but there is a certain misbalance to its storytelling approach.
The story is centred on young introvert and young, Rafe (Gluck) who is hoping for a fresh start after being kicked out of two schools. His mother, Jules (Gilmore Girls’ Lauren Graham), worries about his general psyche and inability to focus, which are quickly tested run by the overbearing, art-hating Principal Dwight (Daly) when he hands Rafe a list of rules he must abide by if he is to make it through the year.
Things take a turn for the worst when his most prized possession, a sketchbook filled with sci-fi doodles and satirical caricatures he turns to in order channel his discontent , is confiscated by Dwight, who believes that art is ‘for old people’ and that it belongs in a museum. Unable to sit back and watch, Rafe teams up with new pal Leo (Barbusca) to cook up a plan of revenge.
The film’s seemingly positive and spirited attitude, in the first half of the movie at least, is something that will only really be appealing to younger audiences. Although pretty standard in terms of premise and storytelling, the film successfully manages to highlight the importance of non-conformity and personal individuality. Employing a breezy tone and interesting visual animations in bringing Rafe’s sketches to life, there’s light-heartedness to the story and watching the young boy trying to settle into his new surroundings makes for an entertaining watch.
However, the film runs into trouble as the third act comes into play, where slightly grimmer and solemner subjects are explored; the tonal shift is quite drastic and ends up putting quite a dent into the entire piece.
Gluck is charming as the young lead, but it’s the movie’s unsuccessful attempt in trying to be both funny and earnest that limits it, with the whole concept coming across as a little forced and desperate to please.